Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

After New York attack, Donald Trump doubles down on ... Chuck Schumer?

The Great Distractor and Divider is despicably at it again.

Thanks to a heinous act of terrorism that killed eight people in New York City, President Trump is talking immigration, not collusion with Russia. And, willing as ever to push whatever stomach-churning buttons are necessary to drive this country apart, Trump is also blaming Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat from New York, for a so-called Diversity Visa Lottery that may have allowed the terror suspect to come from Uzbekistan to the United States.

The president claims that 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov arrived in the United States under a program that offers 50,000 visas annually to immigrants from parts of the world with low immigration rates. As reported by The Washington Post, the policy originated in a bill introduced in 1990 by Schumer, who was then a member of the House, and was absorbed into a broader immigration bill. The legislation passed the House, 231-192, and the Senate, 89-8. It was signed into law by Republican President George H.W. Bush at the end of 1990. The policy has been debated for years, and in 2013, according to the Post, Schumer proposed a bill that would have ended it. Congress did nothing, and so it survives.

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Those facts mean nothing to Trump. In a series of tweets, he called the lottery program “a Chuck Schumer beauty” and accused Schumer of “helping to import Europe’s problems.” The president’s willingness to spread disinformation and sow division is now so well-established that it almost doesn’t count as news. But it must be called out for what it is — a vile abuse of the president’s bully pulpit — because accepting that as normal is surrender to the obscene.

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New York City suffers its deadliest terrorist attack since Sept. 11, 2001: The suspect smashes a rented van into cyclists and joggers along a bike path, leaving mangled bikes and bodies. Onlookers, including young people at a nearby school, are horrified. And the president of the United States believes the appropriate response is a Twitter attack on a US senator and native New Yorker who represents the state where the crime occurred.

After Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured hundreds of others during the massacre in Las Vegas, the White House said it was inappropriate to talk about gun control policies. “There is a time and place for political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at the time.

By that standard, the morning after a terrorist attack is not the time or place for a political debate about immigration. It should be the time to unite as a country.

But there’s no consistency or honor in this White House, just a president happy to pick at any scab if it turns Americans against each other – and if it distracts from news that threatens him.

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His answer to the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into ties between his campaign and Russia is to point a finger at Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee for spending money to gather opposition research on him during the 2016 campaign. His response to the guilty plea from Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos is to label the young man he once called an “excellent guy” as a liar and pretender.

Distract, divide, and conquer? That worked during the 2016 presidential campaign. As strategy for a president, however, it leaves Trump with an approval rating of 38 percent, according to a recent Public Policy Poll. Forty-nine percent of those surveyed also support impeachment.

Nevertheless, the Great Distractor and Divider persists. That’s the real American tragedy.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.